Posts filed under ‘Special Rants’

ISIS Mass Grave for Older Women…and the G20?

ISIS has only one use of women – as sex slaves – and kills the rest if over 40. Indeed, a mass grave was discovered when Kurdish fighters recovered territory in Iraq held by ISIS since August 2014 that included the bodies of women, aged 40-80, who had been discarded for their lack of utility for the Islamic State. These Medieval war lords, intent on creating a new world disorder, cannot be allowed to drive world conversations into a sadly regressive series of skirmishes. Leadership must create opportunity to undermine despair.

As terrorism spread across Paris Friday evening, another important news item slipped to the inside pages of International News despite being covered by the BBC, the New York Times, and papers from Boston to Los Angeles. While the atrocities had occurred in the past, the existence of the mass grave for Yazidi women between 40 and 80 is another reminder that we are dealing with humanity’s lowest common denominator. As we sit poised on dystopia, the classically maternal nurturing response deserves a voice lest the martyrdom of these women presage the fall of civilization.

ISIS violates the social contract that we all have with one another…that we can pursue our individual lives in private and public places, secure in the knowledge that there are things we will not do to one another. Marauders who live by the invader’s motto of killing the men, raping the women, and burning the villages are so anachronistic; yet, we are living and dying with them in horrific fashion. And they wish to claim their place in the annals of world power.

The convergence of the G20 Economic Summit, Middle Eastern unrest, and the new age of terrorism in the Western World is unsettling. However, the context can and should help us find our way. A knee-jerk response to a vicious attack is overwhelmingly weighted toward a show of force in return. And the uncharacteristically militaristic action taken by France is understandable. Still, even as we stand by France, we must show restraint from the sidelines.

The world needs a new, healthy economy. The Middle East needs a path to peace. And the terrorists who are consolidating power in the vacuum created by political unrest, poverty, and powerlessness need a worthy competitor dealing in hope.

In 2001, the Bush-Cheney White House unwittingly acted like war lords in retrospect rather than leading the world as proactive preventers of terrorist. We have been caught up on the battlefield ever since. Unfortunately, this regressive posture is reinforced by the threat of the unknown in a new world economic order that is no longer centered in the West. We need to be fearless…but that does not mean warlike.

Each nation of the world must find its core strengths and economic balance in both its local and international posture. War-torn lands must be rebuilt. Factors of production and workers must re-emerge across the globe in modern, sustainable fashion, displacing 18th century techniques that are cheap, environmentally destructive, and imminently dangerous.

People who are not valued can be made indifferent in their allegiance to good or evil. A world response that sees possibilities for mankind can and must be grounded in a vision of peace and prosperity. Without that, our descent into chaos and disorder will render leadership irrelevant. The G20 may seem powerless for the moment, but they are deciding their own fate.

November 16, 2015 at 9:14 AM Leave a comment

Financiers Exporting Own Risk Take Fees and Wreck the Market

The legal ability of banks to package their riskiest assets into blind investment instruments greatly reduced risk for the bankers themselves. Instead of managing risk, they simply exported it to their trust customers via paper transactions. To complicate matters, the act of reducing the penalties for risky behavior among bankers led them to engage in less prudent behavior, again creating a burden for the market…all the while collecting fees for this disservice to all but the industry’s most powerful clients. This behavior continues today as non-productive financial assets are proliferating, edging out real investments in capital assets and long-term shareholder value. Without external intervention this generously rewarded behavior will not change.

The US economy cannot flourish with distributor margins. A few decades ago, as a young analyst, I studied shareholder value creation while working for a hospital supply company. The CEO was leading the company through a change from a sales growth model to a profitable growth model that created real shareholder value. The firm was an industry leader, but its share price had languished despite double digit revenue gains for most of its history. A cornerstone of the strategy was vertical integration into manufacturing.

Fast forward to 2015, and we are faced with a dysfunctional US market that is looking for growth in all the wrong places…because they forgot what real shareholder value means. Having divested the supply function in almost every industry, Wall Street has hidden behind smoke screens of paradigm shifts and non-productive market activity while losing its footing in value added to the economy…and they will not change as long as we pay them to do this. At its gloomiest, one could question whether capitalism, or even the US economy, will actually exist when the cycle completes.

Manufacturers across the US divested their supply functions and replaced them with lower cost producers offshore. The co-existence of supply-side incentives in the US with the transfer of the supplier function left corporations and investment houses with excess cash. Banks diligently created new paper assets for trading, as if our money benefited from a sort of isometric workout in the absence of production in the US economy. And the fees for traders and brokers grew even as our economy stagnated. Indeed there is no incentive for the financial services industry to stop their cycle of spinning flax…for them it really does generate gold.

Dubious analysts were labeled as unclear on the whole global economy concept, and the other great paradigm shift – In technology – apparently justified underwriting bubble machines for technology stocks. In reality, the US simultaneously shifted from an industrial nation to a distribution economy AND moved product promotion and distribution to the Internet. Granted, it is a lot to digest; however, we have presumed new value creation that does not exist. Distributor margins put skid marks on profits that could not be offset by revenue gains. And the great promise of the New Economy on the Internet has thus far only yielded zero sum shifts from traditional advertising and sales outlets to virtual ones. Exceptions exist, but they have become overvalued and, eventually, sources of booms and busts on Wall Street.

Our retirement funds are not growing. Our jobs are not expanding in the right places. Our youth already reflect our future, polarized between the entitlement of wealth and privilege and the lean existence of the underemployed and profoundly indebted. No group better demonstrates the injustice and unsustainability of income inequity. And the market thrives…churning out transactions with no end game a sane person would want to explore.

I suggest investing in Sports Medicine…because capitalism’s Invisible Hands are severely broken, and whoever figures out how to fix them will make a fortune.

October 15, 2015 at 8:04 AM Leave a comment

The Visible Hand of the Un-free Market

Corporations are not people. The people they represent are not necessarily US citizens. And their tax money shows their allegiance to foreign nations. Other than that, the Citizens United case decided by the Supreme Court in 2010 merely violates the balance of power between a free market economy and democracy as a core principle of the American way of life. Political corruption and economic tyranny can be the only outcomes in the end.

Until a corporation can register to vote and walk into a polling place to cast a single vote, it is not a person. In the meantime, however, we have a serious problem thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010 that determined that corporations were people. Since then, campaigns financed by corporate sponsors have controlled a significant number of elections in the US, effectively hijacking the democratic process from real people. Within individual states, outsiders are determining who will run for office to represent the residents in both houses of the Congress. And, at the national level, presidential politics have similarly come under the control of anonymous PACs of people.

The power money comes from multinational corporations. And their shareholders, to whom they hold allegiance, represent more or less every nation in the world. So, how can a corporate “person” promise us that it is an American citizen and only serves the interests of American people? Decades before the Citizens United case came to court, these same US corporations already had taken tax breaks for supply-side economics and used them to finance the transfer operations out of the US and create jobs in other nations. And this has not been their only odd way of saying thank you in the US.

Outsourcing jobs offshore was supposed to ensure low-cost supply functions, greater profits, and eventual payback in the US. Unfortunately, a lot of profits have remained pooled offshore. And worse, not all of these corporate citizens have been satisfied with their US headquarters. Indeed, the trend has been to find a nation with a lower corporate tax rate*, invest in a small company there, and transfer the corporate assets and headquarters to that foreign office, effectively renouncing US corporate registration. This process, known as corporate inversion, means that taxes on the profits from US tax breaks to support supply-side economics are actually paid to a foreign nation. Even your corner drugstore, Walgreens, had considered a corporate inversion recently, but yielded to political pressure to delay action.

Not to worry, our domestic representatives of these foreign corporations will continue to demand supply-side concessions in the wake of our sorry employment situation in the US. And, most ironically, they will continue to win elections supported by the Tea Party faithful and other Cretan Paradox sufferers under the banner of “taking back America.”

As I mentioned in my last post…

“The US is defined by a political economy based on democracy and capitalism. The balance they maintain is essential to our freedom. Free market capitalism – not monopolies – are theoretically protected under our constitution. And, because one must have money to play in the free market, the democratic process allows for political will to be exerted over economic processes if poverty excludes too many Americans from the competition. Yet a bad Supreme Court decision has placed capitalists as the masters of both politics and the economy. This can only end badly if left unchallenged.”

This mess really needs to be cleaned up in 2015. There will be too much at stake in 2016 elections for us to leave our destinies in the hands of the incredibly visible hand of the un-free market.

* Conservatives have used this discrepancy in corporate tax rates to call for lowering rates in the US. However, nations with lower corporate tax rates often have higher personal income tax rates to make up the difference. These same politicians are not likely disclose such details or to seek that balance.

July 21, 2015 at 8:26 AM Leave a comment

Why Isn’t America Enough?

Time to Wake Up & Restore Balance in Our Political Economy Under 1 US flag Only, Please

Apparently the crux of the matter that necessitated the Civil War has not been resolved. Pride in our nation and its basic constructs has not been enough…even 150 years later. Some significant number of Americans believes that their right to honor major proponents of slavery is more important than our belief that all men are created equal…that their right to celebrate Confederate “honor” supersedes the dignity and pursuit of happiness of people of color, people whose ancestors were kidnapped, displaced by an ocean, imprisoned, sold into slavery, and even forced to fight under a Confederate flag. Ironically, many offenders are political conservatives who seek to “take back America” while turning a blind eye to the deepest erosion of American values.

The American way of life is at risk. Corporations are people [sic] who dominate our formerly representative form of government based on democratic elections. Voting rights are no longer guaranteed to be free or accessible to all. More than half of American school children live in poverty, and most have no access to equity in education, both potent dream killers. Liberty and justice are mired in racial bias. And freedom of assembly carries more weight for white people than non-white people, for the rich more so than the poor. In short, our words are being undermined by our actions. All people are not born equal.

The US is defined by a political economy based on democracy and capitalism. The balance they maintain is  essential to our freedom. Free market capitalism – not monopolies – are theoretically protected under our constitution. And, because one must have money to play in the free market, the democratic process allows for political will to be exerted over economic processes if poverty excludes too many Americans from the competition. Yet a bad Supreme Court decision has placed capitalists as the masters of both politics and the economy. This can only end badly if left unchallenged.

The skirmishes over Southern heritage and honor have become a smoke screen over the unseen concessions to the larger American way of life under the US Constitution. We cannot protect our deepest constructs unless we collectively embrace concepts of freedom for all, equal access under the law, and protection from economic tyranny. Instead, however, our society is becoming polarized and ethnocentric as we protect shrinking shares of wealth while economic and political power is increasingly concentrated for the 1% at the top of an oligopoly.

Why isn’t America enough for the Confederate flag wavers? The reflections of too many people over the past and their unrepentant obsession with the dubious tyranny of white supremacist thought are mind-boggling. Give it up. We face real challenges to our greater way of life. We can only rebuild our nation in the words of our founding fathers if we collectively walk the walk of the free and the brave even as we acknowledge the profound irony of the flawed society in which those words were written.

July 19, 2015 at 9:29 AM Leave a comment

US History and Other Little White Lies

It took an article by a Bostonian in 2015 to tell a Richmond, Virginia home girl just how bad the history of the city had been. Not even the nuns (ironically also from Boston) who were my first teachers 50 years earlier dared to reveal the magnitude of the slave trade that had flourished a century before just a couple of miles down the road from the school. But can the descendants of the power elite, who were also the villains of our real history, handle the truths that strip them of so many points of pride in time to re-frame the future?

I thought things had gotten about as bad as they could when researchers confirmed evidence of cannibalism in the Jamestown Settlement where my ancestors had arrived in 1607. As something of a born-again Yankee, I am still reeling from yet another omission from my southern history lessons, stories that were at best dangerous half-truths, diluted by pretensions of grand ideas of brave white men and their ladies, and predicated on slavery of a scale that shocks me anew. Why had I not learned the story that Richmond, Virginia was second only to New Orleans as the likely slavery capital – of the world – in its day?

I had not looked back since leaving Richmond in 1973, somehow accepting that the worst of slavery happened in the Deep South…not my own backyard. I fear that is what many people were taught…a sense of plausible deniability that any of us were the true bogeymen. And with that, white southerners waved that Confederate flag and bought into a profoundly flawed sense of honor. Worse, that flag bolstered the racist acts of unreconstructed hate mongers who continue to plague us today.

The Civil War erupted out of an economic debate…could We the People continue to get free labor from enslaved men, women, and children in any state and still hold onto the virtues upon which our nation was founded? And there was an unresolved issue of State’s rights…with trading on human flesh at its core. In short, it was about slavery. Building the National Museum of Slavery in Shockoe Bottom is essential to memorialize the victims of slavery and to remember American History in its darkest days.

The issue had come to a head as the slave trade in Richmond alone had escalated to 350, 000 people in the 35 years before the end of the war in 1965, despite Federal laws in 1808 and 1811 that banned importing slaves into the US. Enforcement of the law was underfunded, and individual states elected to ignore the embargo. The brutality of the treatment of those who were enslaved further reflected the arrogance of slavers toward humanity and the basic tenets of their government. When Richmond burned as the Civil War was coming to an end, locals turned a blind eye. The scene of the crime was lost, and slave burial grounds eventually were paved over for parking lots or enclosed when an Interstate highway was built.

Efforts have been made to reveal some of the lies told in our history books. The real Christopher Columbus did not discover America…he was the white marauder who launched the first battles to conquer it. And the West was won, not as manifest destiny, but through theft of Native American land, sweated labor of immigrants on the railroads, and a general disregard for human dignity for non-white people. In our hearts we know that this is true. Yet we still hide behind the value of states’ rights in order to deny healthcare or hunger relief benefits to the poor or underemployed in an increasingly inequitable economy. And we cast wary glances upon immigrants seeking freedom within our borders.

Questions remain about our gumption to not just face our sordid past – from gifts of smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans in the Plimouth Colony to prisons filled by racism today – but to act on the grave necessity of re-framing our future. Can the descendants of the power elite, who were also the villains of our real history, handle the truths that strip them of so many points of pride now exposed as fairy tale versions of some truly dark conquests? The don’t-ask-don’t-tell white history of the United States is not working for any of us. We must face it to prevent its shadow from being cast any further upon our children.

July 9, 2015 at 9:57 AM Leave a comment

History Lessons in the Age of Social Media?

Amy Winehouse was a neglected child with great talent and no sense of boundaries. She self-destructed in the public eye. And, in private, someone’s phone was capturing sordid details to augment what the paparazzi missed. A documentary captures this in the story of her rise and fall in true tabloid fashion. It is an indictment of an era’s lost privacy, hunger for the sleaze factor, and bad storytelling. Is anyone recording all the facts and reporting them in balanced fashion anymore?

I knew I was in trouble last night when a preview of the soon-to-be released documentary on Amy Winehouse began like a bad home movie. A hand-held camera, probably a smartphone, wobbled erratically while capturing blurry pictures of her with friends and family at age 18. I quickly flashed back to movies like The Blair Witch Project and the wholly rotoscoped Waking Life that had given me two of a handful of migraines in my life but decided to stick it out. By the end, I was moved to tears as a montage of child-like Amy pictures accompanied the credits while she crooned one of her hit songs. Then I got mad.

Where was the professional footage? Why wasn’t there more music? This was a story told without an arc…a train wreck in slow motion start to finish, a screwed up tabloid version of a wasted life. Her self-described best years got little more than a footnote, and the music got edited out in favor of repetitive narration as soon as each song really started to rock. The only real exception was the too-brief coverage of Winehouse’s studio date with Tony Bennett. Was there any other decent footage of Amy in existence? My husband’s reaction was essentially the same. We came home with the taste of bile in our mouths – too real given Winehouse’s bulimia – that could only be brushed away while YouTube videos quenched our thirst for Amy’s legacy.

Is this how history will be recorded from now on? Do we only care about what is trending? What gets clicks? A legitimate documentarian seeks to capture history for posterity in accurate and watchable fashion. A tragic story can be told as a cautionary tale, but true fame can only come from exemplary talent and a wave of success to which flashing cameras on the street merely serve as a gauge for celebrity, not the main event. Yet we watched a couple of hours of phone videos, gossip, and seizure-inducing flashbulb popping.

Winehouse fell victim to her own celebrity, but it was the catalyst for her death…not the story of her life. Someone in Amy Winehouse’s private entourage betrayed her with great regularity, and a film maker bought the footage and the brand. It could be called Amy Died. But it only matters if the fact that she lived had meaning. This latter point has been lost, but the first to hit the theaters will get real money, especially with never-before-seen naughty footage. Boo-hiss.

Here’s hoping someone documents Ms. Winehouse’s actual life, with a story arc that peaks too soon, ends badly, but reminds us of why her short life left us feeling genuinely cheated by death.

July 8, 2015 at 8:28 AM Leave a comment

Facing History in Richmond

The Boston Sunday Globe has featured my home town this morning, and not in a good way. Deconstructing the biased history of Southern whites has taken on new urgency as the world beckons and will surely seek an explanation of blind allegiance to archaic and inhumane institutions. Come September, a world-class bicycle race will take 16 laps around a monument to Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. A vandal’s noble act that was quickly white-washed away offers a glimpse into an answer…that our shared Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution clearly indicate that Black Lives Matter.

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia in the 50s and 60s. Davis Avenue was just the other side of my block in the Fan District. Trips to my grandmother’s house on Bethlehem Road almost always took us past the Davis Monument and most of the rest of the monuments to Confederate “heroes.” The drive to my other grandmother’s house took us down The Boulevard, past Museum Row and the tennis courts in Byrd Park where “tennis whites only” signs, allegedly offering a clue to the dress code for the sport, were prominent enough to be read from the car. By 1970, busing took me to high school at Maggie Walker, where I would train for a tennis team on the city’s other courts in Battery Park – a series of courts in a gully paved after a sewer project took much of the city’s waste water underground to a new processing plant – and get my first glimpses of a new perspective on history.

Battery Park was where Arthur Ashe had honed his considerable skills in the shadow of large Sassafras trees; apparently his shorts and tee shirts could never get white enough for the fashion police of Byrd Park. I was a novice player and loved those tennis courts, which were built end-on-end so stray balls never went into the next court. And any shade was welcomed during a heat wave. No one in Richmond society had paid attention as African Americans had built gracious lives in lovely homes once disgraced by a dump. One of my favorite teachers had a home there. A gang war was raging across the city between the east and west side ruffians, but there was peace in that valley.

Many decades later, the Arthur Ashe monument would ignite a debate attributed to the placement of a tennis star’s throne at the end of a line of Civil War figures. It got ugly, and much of the rhetoric was misplaced both in content and focus. This was not about heroism in the battlefield; it was the first time that a local majority of African American citizens had won a decision that effectively challenged the “whites only” history of one of America’s oldest cities.

What is a point of pride in a heritage that is steeped in heinous acts? The Globe article lays bare the shame of the city that did not exactly end with the centuries of slavery. And there is no way to re-frame the story of the Confederacy without these facts. The racial bias inherent in glorified civil war monuments cannot be denied. Yet, the Davis Monument is not likely to be dismantled by September of 2015.

A couple of weeks ago, “Black Lives Matter” was spray-painted on the massive arc of concrete at the foundation of the Davis Monument. The efficiency with which these words were wiped away is a clear indication of how vital it is to restore their message.

Let us air our conversations in full disclosure and find common ground in the Declaration of Independence and in the Preamble of the Constitution. The statue of Jefferson Davis does not represent the United States of America. It should be shrouded for the race, perhaps covered by an American flag and streamers holding the national banners of all of the participating nations. And the walls around the monument should be draped with quotations that confront our divided past. Truths that we hold to be self-evident juxtaposed with the many eloquent calls for action from those for whom those rights have been denied…great banners that announce to the world and remind ourselves: We Are One, and All Lives Matter.

July 5, 2015 at 10:52 AM Leave a comment

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